Friday, July 31, 2009

Travel Log - Prince Albert National Park

On to Prince Albert National Park - very nice place. We took "scenic" 263 both into and out of the park. Just before entering the park we stopped at a Lion's Club park on one of the lakes. I noticed a bird diving around the dock - upon further study it was a red necked grebe - a new life bird for me!!!!! We had our picnic lunch in another picnic area right before entering the park. We got a yearly Canadian National Parks Pass and printed literature about the park. We took all the driving tours in the park. We came in on Scenic Drive #263. Then we took the Narrows Drive. Paignton Beach was set up really nicely - firewood for the picnic areas, picnic tables and benches to enjoy the view. Historic as well with old fireplaces and a camp kitchen built by relief workers in the 1930's. The end of the "Narrows Drive is a great campground. There is a boat trip you can take up to the narrows - departs 3 times a day and they also offer a sunset cruise. You can also rent boats, canoes, and kayaks - would be something fun to do to go up the Narrows area of Lake Waskesiu.

We drove through the town Waskesiu - nice, small inviting town with guest services - restaurants, hotels, gift shops, etc. It would be a fun place to stay if you were going to get to spend more time here. We were lucky to see a fox hunting and running the road near Waskesiu. Then we took the Hanging Heat Lakes/Kingsmere Drive. At the top was another place to launch boats or canoes - pretty, quiet, it would be a fun canoe or kayak area. While shooting this image of this peaceful spot, I was being dive bombed by huge dragonflies. Their wings were buzzing right round my ears. It took me a few minutes to figure out why the dragonflies seemed to be attacking me - they were after the swarms of mosquitoes that were feasting on me! I don't tend to notice mosquitoes nearly as much as Henry. I was concentrating on my photography and the dragonflies were more annoying than the biting mosquitoes . . .

We didn't see the nesting pelicans but there are supposed to be a group of pelicans that nest here each year.

I shot this image on our way back to Prince Albert on scenic 263.

On the way back to the town, Prince Albert - we stopped at some of the marshy ponds - saw another pair of red necked grebes - one that I think might have been a chick. Saw another unknown duck with chicks and a belted kingfisher. We spent the night at the Comfort Inn so we could have internet. Had dinner at Humpty's - Henry had cod and I had upside down Shepherd's Pie. After two nights with no internet, we finished our evening catching up on our internet stuff.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Prince Albert National Park - Saskatchewan

We spent today at Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan. Beautiful forested park with many lakes.

This fox was the highlight of the day. We watched him jump along the side of the highway to catch his dinner. He crossed over and ran along the highway for some distance. We would get ahead of him and I would try to photograph him as he ran towards us. He was always in motion, so out of a group of shots, this one is the best. I love getting to see foxes!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Travel Log - Chamberlain SD

We headed over to Chamberlain on Monday - the location for Henry's book Falling Bakward. Lunch was rest stop along I-90. A storm was brewing to the north. We could hear the gentle thunder over the rolling hills.

We got to Chamberlain just before the rains hit. Henry went into the high school through the rain - hoping to find someone - principal, libriarian . . . etc . . . He went to the Chamber of Commerce and we went to the Dairy Queen - he had found a high school student through Twitter that he was hoping to connect with. Finally the young man showed up . . . he's going to college in the fall to major in computer security.

Chamberlain is really a pretty town. Built on the bluffs above the Missouri River, the river is a lake there. The town is still very much alive - businesses open in the downtown area rather than long empty stores. They've had rain this summer so the hills were a pretty pale green - other summers it is hot and dry with yellowed and brown grass. There are hotels and restaurants and fishing and boating opportunities along the Missouri. On the eastern edge of town is a pretty park built on one of the levees. This would be a fun place to spend some time.

We went north from Chamberlain. Taking backroads, we found tons of ring necked pheasants along the road. Some were hiding near tall clumps of grass along the fence line. Others were along the roadside possibly getting salt. A few were on top of the big round haybales. We found males, females, chicks . . . It was fun to watch them try to hide by slinking their head and necks close to the ground. One even tried to hide on the hay bale by lowering her head and laying it on the bale.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

High Plains Rain

We've started our summer road trip leaving Amarillo this afternoon. As we headed north I could see storm clouds way off in the distance. As we entered Oklahoma, I began to see some interesting rain lines and decided it was time to get started taking photographs.

By the time we had dug out the camera, tripod, etc, the first formation I wanted to photograph had evaporated. We drove on down the road and we stopped again for me to take this one.

We drove into the rain line and I was delighted to see fields where the rows were filled with water and pastures that were white with standing water. This is dry country where you measure rain in hundredths of an inch - so a good rain like this in the middle of the summer is like liquid gold.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wedding Musings

Tonight was our niece's daughter Christian's wedding (my great niece???) As I watched this special young couple go down the aisle and say their vows - many things crossed my mind - my own wedding, my children's weddings, my niece's weddings, how much this great niece looks like her mother . . . the sanctity of marriage and marriage vows . . . the bright hopes and dreams all young couple have as they start out . . . how young they look . . . how fast this coming generation is growing from childhood to adulthood . . .

During the reception . . . how happy they look, how much fun they're having at the reception, the friends and family celebrating the joyous occasion . . .

Weddings are special because they are beginnings, filled with hope, love, laughter and joy.

My wish for Brady and Christian that their life will always be filled with joy, happiness, peace, trust, and above all . . . love!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Mockingbird Chicks

I knew that I had a mockingbird nest in one of the live oak trees in the front yard. I had watched the parents sneak in and settle down, but activity had come to a halt and I wasn't seeing in activity. We had also seen a bunch of loose feathers that looked like the remains of a mockingbird, so I figured that the nest had failed.

But I have two juvenile mockingbirds showing up at the bird bath each morning. No way to know whether they are from the nest in the front yard or another one. I never see a parent with these two youngsters, but they are really enjoying the birdbath.

I'm set up on my front porch with my big lens, hoping to catch that "perfect" image with the chick splashing in the water . . . I've got a few that I'm proud of.

I also enjoy watching them shake out the water from their feathers, pluff themselves up and groom themselves.

They even come up with some really cute poses.

I'm enjoying my summer mornings on the porch - the birds keep me well entertained!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Barn Swallows under the Eaves

I knew that the first brood of barn swallows had flown and that mom was sitting on new eggs. We saw the new chicks this week. I knew I wanted to get some photos when they were little . . . but there is always a lot to do so I didn't get out to photograph until this morning. Sadly I had seen two chicks the other day . . . today I only saw one. But it was so cute and alert as it waited for its parents to bring food. Of course, if a fly or insect flew near, it opened that wide mouth and snapped out. I enjoyed watching the chick stretch out its still downy wings. It is already grooming and flapping those wings. I'm wondering if that is what happened to the other chicken - squirming in the next, flapping the wings, getting unbalanced, and then falling out.

Both mother and father barn swallow bring food to the chicks. In checking more about barn swallows - long tails and darker red chested colors are the preferred choices of female barn swallows. Note that this father has deep coloration - must be a prize catch!

And I think the first group of fledgllngs would like to come back as I've seen the parents chase off some other swallow presumably the first group. However, unmated barn swallows can also come in and kill nestlings hoping to get their chance to mate with the female. I just know we've seen some aerial battles around the nest the last week or so.

While some people don't like the mess the nesting swallows make on porches under their nest, I'm grateful to have these small chicks living under my eaves. Not only do I enjoy watching them, but I also know that they help reduce the mosquito population around my yard.

While I've got other photos from the first clutch that I intend to post either here or my website, this is one of my favorite shots from today.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Fruits from a Spiritual Garden

I've always loved the passage about the fruits of the spirit Galatians 5:22-23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

Also from Matthew 5:16 Where Jesus was talking about false prophets: "By their fruit you will recognize them," and from
Matthew 7:17 "Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit."

When I was growing up, the lessons about spiritual fruit tended to be talking about whether or not we were bringing other people to Christ with baptism and new Christians being our "fruits." And there was the fear that if we weren't producing fruit we would be pruned - not a pleasant thought! I've learned over time that the fruit that God is looking for is manifested in our lives. Are we loving? Joyful? Patient? When people look at us and our lives, do they see Christ living in us? Do they see His love, His Patience, his kindness, his faithfulness, his gentle touch?

A fiction or fantasy book that I read many many years ago had the concept that people lived on by how long their products lasted. The spirit of a carpenter that built a house would live on as long as the house still stood. The spirit of a lady who made a quilt would linger as long as her quilt lasted, etc. In some ways that is true - humans are visual and tactile creatures. When we see and touch things it can bring back memories of the person who was responsible for its existence.

When I was at Cade's Cove in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the Primitive Baptist church still has handprints on the ceiling from the workmen:

The wood was still green and the sap created lasting handprints where the workmen used their hands to hold the wood in place to hammer the ceiling panels in place.

The produce from my garden will be consumed. The pickles, frozen squash, and jam will only last for a year or so. Hopefully we will eat it all and enjoy it throughout the winter. It is possible that some of my photographs will be a lasting legacy to provide enjoyment for people beyond my lifetime. I have vintage photographs of my ancestors some taken over 100 years ago - they are precious to me as part of my family history. But new technologies can easily render my photos obsolete as it becomes possible to take photos with higher technology equipment or even three dimensional images. And there are many things that can damage or destroy photographs - fire, flood, hard drive failures, etc.

But the fruit of my spiritual garden will be long lasting - the people whose lives I've touched (for good or bad), the children I've worked with, the women I've taught, people who read my blog or my books . . . I can only live my life each day and trust that God will produce long lasting fruits or even eternal fruits from my simple, earthly endeavors.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Fruits from my Garden

I grew up in Amarillo, Texas during the '50's. On my block several people had gardens. My next door neighbor had beautiful roses growing along the fence and a small area with tomatoes at the back of her yard. Three other families had half of their backyard filled with their gardens. One year my mother filled our backyard with a garden. While I don't remember her canning that year, I do remember the jars of pickles. I also remember that it was so much work, she didn't do that again . . .

When we bought our first house, one of the neighbors was an energetic gardener. My first garden plot was probably 10 feet by 10 feet. My neighbor, Betty, had a Troy built Tiller that I was able to borrow and I enlarged the initial space. She and I would visit a nearby stable to clean stalls to take home fresh manure to enrich the soil. I also added the fallen leaves when we tilled.

When we moved to Hutto, I had a much larger garden. I had a tiller that had its own motor but was pulled by my small yard tractor. I had a load of cow manure and sand dumped to enrich the soil. I have fond memories of cooking fresh new potatoes and fresh broccoli. My sister-in-law had some great pickle recipes. I also remember pickling watermelon rind, making green tomato chutney, and even pickled squash.

When my daughter entered school, Girl Scouts became a big part of our life. The annual cookie sale coincided with the time I normally got my ground ready for the cool weather crops and the garden faded away for lack of time.

With the economy so poor this year, I wanted to do a garden again. I rented a tiller and my daughter helped me get the ground tilled. While it was the same area where I used to garden, I went ahead and added "Back to the Earth" soil compost so the soil would be rich and fertile. Yellow squash has been my bumper crop. I quickly decided that if we weren't going to eat it that day, I needed to be freezing it. I've got LOTS of squash in the freezer. And . . . the squash keeps coming and coming and coming . . .

The cucumbers were prolific as well. I've made sweet pickles, refrigerator bread and butter, and hot dill pickles. Fortunately, the cucumbers have slowed down with our 100+ temperatures. When I went out this morning, it looks like I'll have enough cucumbers for a small batch of sweet pickles or the bread and butter ones.

My gardening season is nearing an end. While the tomatoes are still green on the vine, we'll be heading up to Amarillo for a wedding and on to Montreal for Anticipation, Science Fiction Worldcon. With this summer's record breaking heat and water restricitons that make automatic watering difficult, my garden will be dry and shriveled when I get home. But, it has been a glorious garden - one to remember!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Photographing Fireworks

I always enjoy the fireworks on the fourth of July. We've been many places on the fourth of July so I've got many good memories.

I did not get to Old Settler's Park early because Thomas is home for the weekend and naturally I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible.

I knew that it was easy to get to Round Rock's fireworks with plenty of parking. As I walked over to find my spot I enjoyed watching the families. Some were seated in lawn chairs, some on blankets on the ground. There were families with small children. There were kids and grownups throwing balls and frisbies - playing before the fireworks started.

As I set up my gear, I wanted to do some test shots. There was a momentary panic as my camera was acting funny. It would act like it was taking the shot but then there was nothing on the preview screen. I tried several things - turning the camera on and off, checking my settings, resetting the custom features, etc. I was getting disappointed since I had not gone out to do firework shots since Malibu in 2005. But I changed the camera card and all was well in the world.

I had glanced at one article about photographing fireworks, but it really didn't go into the settings. I had a pretty good idea what I wanted (which was why I was wanting to do the test shots . . . that the camera issue delayed.)

I knew I wanted to shoot manual with ISO 100 and f/stop 16 for good, crisp, clean images.

I started a f/16 at .6 sec - too dark so I adjusted to 3.2 sec

I shot some at f/16 and 4 sec.

I was using my 24-105 lens so I also played with the zoom trying to get both the distance shots and full frame shots.

When I knew the grand finale was near, I reduced the exposure more because I knew it would be very bright.

These are my favorites - hope you enjoy them and that you had a wonderful 4th of July weekend.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Chicks in my Yard

I have mamy white wing doves that visit my feeders every day. I'm seeing their chicks join them. White winged chicks don't have the brilliant blue around their eyes and their eyes are more brown rather than the bright orange of the mature doves. They don't seem to beg from their parents going straight for the seeds. The other distinguishing marks for the juvenile white wings are those white patches on their cheeks.

Other chicks I've seen this year - barn swallows, house finches, house sparrows, red bellied woodpecker and blue jay. I know I have a pair of road runners around the property and I saw a bird this week that had such a long tail and appeared larger than the mockingbirds, but I didn't get a good enough look to verify that it was a road runner chick.

It is fun to watch the chicks beg for their food. They posture, crouching, wings fluttering, mouth open . . . The red bellied woodpecker chick was carefully on the opposite side of the trunk from me. But I could tell that the mother was grabbing suet and feeding something on the other side. I finally got a peek of the chick - no coloring on the head, but perfectly able to fly.

The blue jay chick also assumed the begging posture as its parent was checking out my lawn chair cushions for food.

I'm hoping to capture more images of these chicks in my yard.